October 3, 2012 11:42:55 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Dozens of competitors have descended on Columbus Lake at the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam this week to prepare for this weekend's Crappie Masters National Championship.
The fishermen gathered at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau Tuesday night as members of the CVB welcomed them to Columbus.
CVB director Nancy Carpenter spoke highly of this weekend's event, the seventh fishing tournament Columbus has hosted this year. Fishing tournaments have proven to be a real shot in the arm to the local economy, Carpenter said.
"When you look at the number, you can see what months have been advantageous,'' said Carpenter, noting that the higher sale-tax revenue months correspond with months in which fishing tournaments have been held here. "We average $121,000 to $126,000 in sales tax each month. In the month of March, we hosted two fishing tournaments and Pilgrimage. We had $140,000 in sales tax for March."
Jim and Barbara Reedy of Missouri have been on the Crappie Masters circuit for 20 years and have been coming to Columbus for the past 10 years. The two said that they will typically be in the town hosting a tournament for a week before the event. During that week, they stay in a hotel and dine out at local eateries.
"We try to support the restaurants that support us," Barbara Reedy said, referring to national chains that sponsor the Crappie Masters Tour.
The Reedys said the expense of fishing the tour makes sponsorships critically important.
"Pulling a boat, you're going to get 12 miles to the gallon if you're lucky,'' she said "We spent $300 dollars in gas alone to drive from southeast Missouri to Texas."
However, the payoff for the winner of this weekend's tournament, makes the effort well worth it.
Jim Reedy said the winner of this week's event will collect more than $80,000 in cash and prizes, including two Nitro boats.
Reedy said that as a married team, he and his wife would likely sell one of the boats if they win.
While the two have been fishing together for 20 years, they have only been married for 10 years.
"She had to learn to back the boat up first," Jim wryly noted.
Also in town this week is Kyle Schoenherr, 30, from southern Illinois. Schoenherr is part of the B & M Roadrunner Team and is looking forward to getting on the water this weekend.
He has been fishing since he was a child and said fishing crappie is different than fishing for bass.
"There's something about crappie that's a little more fun. They're more difficult to find. It's definitely challenging."
Like the Reddys, Schoenherr and his partner have already been on the water, testing the area and seeking the best location.
However, Schoenherr said the river is harder to navigate compared to other bodies of water.
"There's not a whole lot of mapping for it."
Jim Reedy agrees, citing the wakes created by barges and recent rain as a hurdle.
Both Schoenherr and Reedy said they have both fished competitively in Columbus before and would welcome the opportunity to do so again.
Local bass angler Justin Atkins praised the area fisheries, particularly the Lock and Dam.
"This is a good fishery. There is a lot of potential here to introduce people to that. I wish it got more attention that it does."
Atkins has been fishing competitively since he was 16 years old and urged members of the CVB to bring as many tournaments as possible to Columbus.
"It really is a big deal," he said. "You have people coming from anywhere and everywhere in the world. That's a real good economy boost for Columbus."
In his early 20s, Atkins has quickly made a name for himself on the bass fishing circuit, winning a BassMasters event at age 19 and pocketing $50,000 in prize money.
Atkins said bringing more fishing tournaments to the Columbus area help expose children the joys of fishing.
"I would like to see Columbus bring back tournaments that they have had in the past,'' he said. "Not only is it real good exposure for Columbus but there are a lot of kids around here that fish. It's like taking a kid who wants to play football to his first football game. That can really drive them."
Carpenter said the CVB aggressively courted Crappie Masters officials to host this weekend's championship as a means of helping local hotels.
"In the fall, hotels really depend on football season. (This weekend) Mississippi State is away and Alabama is off, so we really wanted to engage (the tournament)," Carpenter said. "We knew that if they came, they would stay in our local hotels. It was by design."
Carpenter added that several hotels in town are booked to capacity as a result of the tournament.
The CVB has hosted two crappie tournaments, two bass tournaments, "To Catch a Dream" and the WalMart Bass Federation Tournament this year.
The anglers can begin fishing at 7 a.m. Friday morning and will fish both Friday and Saturday, with weigh-ins each afternoon.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.